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As Halal industry grows in India, many are concerned about its ‘discriminatory’ effect

As Halal industry grows in India, many are concerned about its ‘discriminatory’ effect
Halal goods are gaining an increased market share in India, which has one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. However, over the last year or so, many in India have started speaking out against the 'Halal industry.'

The latter refers to the set of business processes revolving around Halal certifications. Halal certificates are issued by various Muslim organizations across the world where products are marked ‘Halal’ and are fit and permissible to be used or consumed by a Muslim.

The certificates are provided to not only food products but also to many lifestyle products too, such as beauty products and tourism services. Recently, the list of products and services that should be Halal or should conform to Islamic beliefs are growing, with sectors like real estate, banking, publishing, and entertainment being added to the list.

While it may appear a matter of personal and religious freedom, many in India have started speaking out against it; they see the Halal industry as discriminatory and one that imposes its choices on others.

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“It would not have been an issue if the process was just about Muslims trying to follow their beliefs, but an aggressive demand for Halal products and services has meant that every player in the market is falling in line to become Halal-certified, because most Hindus don’t care much about whether a product or service is Halal or non-Halal,” Ankur Singh from Delhi says.

Hindu groups in India point to the meat industry in the country, where virtually every major player, and even government agencies, have been buying and supplying only Halal meat.

Contrary to popular beliefs, many Hindus do eat meat and the Hindu style of animal slaughter is known as “Jhatka” which is entirely different from the Halal way of slaughter.

Apart from ruing the loss of choice, through which Hindus are being forced to eat Halal meat, such groups have pointed out that the problem goes beyond the matter of choice alone; it is about a practice that is essentially discriminatory when adopted universally.

“In order to get Halal certificate, not only the animal has to be slaughtered as per Islamic rituals, it is mandatory that the person who slaughters such an animal is an adult male Muslim. With every major industry player going for Halal certificate, it means that the job of a slaughterer and the business of running an abattoir is being reserved for Muslims. That is how Halal is a discriminatory practice. We personally know many Hindus, especially those belonging to the Khatik caste, and Sikhs, who have lost their jobs as slaughterers because of Halal meat being rapidly adopted all over India in the meat industry,” says Jai Ahuja, President of Nimittekam, a Jaipur based organization working for upliftment of lower-caste Hindus and refugees from Pakistan.

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Due to such concerns, businesses like fast food giant McDonald’s in India have been served legal notice on their policy of serving only Halal meat in India. Ishkaran Singh Bhandari, a lawyer who practices at the Supreme Court of India, has been one of the persons at the forefront against this Halal hegemony. Bhandari has not only served legal notices to companies like McDonald’s, he has also started a public campaign demanding that the Government of India should recognize a Halal-like certification and business processes that are in line with Hindu beliefs and practices.

Recently, a few Hindu shop owners in the Indian states of Jharkhand and Karnataka had police cases registered against them for displaying Saffron flags on their shops or for writing names like “Hindu Fruit Shop.”

Bhandari had offered to fight cases on behalf of such business owners because he argued that, if displaying a Halal certificate is legal, so should be displaying any Hindu label. He has vowed not to rest until he ends this “Halal Monopoly.”

„I decided to take it up legally because equality has to be there, if Halal Certified is allowed to be used, then people following Sanatan Dharma should be allowed their certification which can be Dharmik Certified,“ Ishkaran says. His public campaign, where he is proposing a „Dharmak Certified“ label like Halal, has gained signatures of over, 1,00,000 supporters.

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Also leading this fight against the alleged Halal monopoly is a website called OpIndia, which is seen as aligned to Hindu nationalist ideology. OpIndia has published a string of articles, interviews and videos speaking out against the Halal industry. One of their articles, which provocatively argued about Hindus having the rights to not hire Muslims because Halal certification precludes Hindus from becoming slaughterers, has sparked international outrage.

A UK-based group named “Stop Funding Hate” started a campaign asking various advertisers to pull their advertising from OpIndia because the website was promoting hate and discrimination.

“I agree that the headline was provocative, so that attention of people is secured, but it was not hateful or discriminatory. Our entire point was that Halal itself is discriminatory, and if that discrimination has a legal and social sanction, why does society outrage when a Hindu decides to indulge in a similar practice?”

Nupur Sharma, editor of OpIndia says in her defense.

Nupur explains that the article, which attracted the campaign to stop ads, was about a police case registered against a bakery owner in the Indian city of Bangalore for an advertising that said “no Muslim workers.”

“[The] Halal certificate essentially says ‘No Hindu slaughterer’ so how was that bakery owner’s advertising different from a Halal certificate? This is all our article argued,” Nupur said.

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Following the campaign against OpIndia, a few advertisers confirmed having stopped their ads from appearing on the website, but Nupur says that her website or team will not be intimidated by such tactics. She called the campaign against OpIndia a textbook “liberal bullying” and an example of an attack on free speech and democratic debate.

“[The] Halal industry is millions of dollars strong, and we are hardly surprised that those dollars are being put to great effect to run a campaign against us. But we hope that this wakes up people everywhere, not just in India, and they realize how speaking out against a discriminatory Halal industry is being branded as speaking in favour of discrimination!” Nupur pointed out.

She further added that perhaps in the West people compare Halal certification with the Jewish Kosher certification and assume that it is just about religious preferences, but unlike Kosher, the Halal certification process has many discriminatory practices, like insisting on Muslims being involved in production or supply chain.

"We are not going to be silenced and will continue speaking up against Halal,” she vowed.

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